Honestly, I’m starting to get uncomfortable with the idea of Muslim Americans being “integrated,” because it implies that we are a foreign element needing to join the “real” Americans. Are Catholic Americans “integrated?” Are African Americans “integrated?” The question makes no sense when applied to other groups. Just as African Americans continue to face discrimination but America is still their country, Muslim Americans are in a similar situation. We are not becoming American or Americanizing. We are just American. It is who we are, not what we want to become. America simply needs to grow and adjust to this reality by including all its members. It will be a stronger country when it does so. Islamophobia is a cancer that destroys everything in a society. It sells unjust wars, it compromises our values and it misinforms our citizens. All Americans must stand against it.
Policewoman Malalai Kakar was killed by the Taliban, but now her picture is being used on social media to represent a ‘terrorist’
Morning must reads
Desexualized Dress Code
I love dresses.
In my senior year of high school, I started wearing skirts and dresses and in a few years they had taken over my wardrobe. My dad has asked me in the past if this change was prompted by all the weight I gained once I became depressed. Perhaps; skirts are easier to fit in to. But the skirts and dresses I wear are also cute, and that has some of its own advantages.
When I first came to school in a cute skirt, one of my classmates was convinced I must have some crush I was trying to impress (not true). More recently a waiter asked me if I was on a date, seeing the dresses both me and my roommate were wearing (also not true). But other than those isolated incidents, my clothing seems to give me a young, cute, and perhaps desexualized look*. I think I may have also had on some level a desire to seem nonthreatening so people would go easier on me.
After converting to Islam, my clothes have been fairly easy to make hijab-compliant. Modest and feminine, they seem to have the approval of other Muslim women. When I go out in hijab, I do feel more comfortable that I don’t have to worry about my hair, or that I might end up flashing people on a windy day. But, on the other hand, hijab seems to diminish the “young” and “cute” expressions that I get from the very same pieces of clothing. It is true, at least for me, that I have a harder time telling people’s ages when they’re in hijab, and that seems to be true for at least some other people— I, age 25, was once asked at a checkout if I would be using the senior discount, and I thought I must be hearing things.
I am not a regular hijabi, but hijab made me consider how I express myself in clothing. I’ve been in college for a long time now, inching along at whatever pace my mental health will allow. By now it feels like an eternal limbo, keeping me in one stage of life that doesn’t have much growth left to offer me anymore. Here, cuteness is still a place of safety. But it may be the uppermost life stage in which I can still get away with it, if I’m not too old already. I resent this cuteness sometimes, like I’m trivializing myself.
I thought about this last year, and decided it was time for a change. Decided, but all I did was stop wearing all my cutesy headbands and flower hair clips. To make a change, I suppose, I really need something to change to. And for now I’m not sure what that might be.
*People still occasionally ask me if I’m in high school. And while high schoolers are stereotypically riding on a sea of raging hormones, perhaps I might be perceived as having some sort of “good girl” look. I can’t say for sure what people might think.
I’ve seen it a few times now, on some groups’ websites, where they’ll use LGBT and LGBTQ interchangeably. And on their about pages, they spell out their focus: lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*.
What is the Q there for for them? Why bother at all? Is it a redundancy limited to L, G, B, T? Is it a tiny self-promotional message of inclusiveness they don’t follow through on? Is it forgetfulness of the wider queer community in wording only, remembered in some places but not others? Is it a sign some may be welcome to participate but not have their issues/identities focused on?
It might refer to “questioning”, but I find that unlikely as whenever people spell out the acronym, queer has precedence, even listed first when there are two Qs.
Even without going and reading such ambiguities, I feel uncertain how welcome I am, as an asexual woman, in any LGBT- or queer-labeled groups, and to what extent.
When the answer is always no: Sex aversion and my sex-negative feminism
This post is for the July Carnival of Aces.
Content warning: Mentions of rape.
I can’t pull all the threads apart, and I don’t claim to be able to. Which came first, the ex-chicken or the scrambled egg? What I do know is this: there is a profound intuition telling me that kissing &c. are not for me, that if I were to do them, it would be a betrayal of my self. (aceadmiral, Aversive Me)
[A] relationship would give them social immunity— I would have to defend my unwillingness more than they would have to defend force. That makes sex a form of power which can be used against me and I don’t have an equivalent weapon. (Anonymous, F-ACE-ing Silence, p. 15)
The reason I use the term “sex aversion” in preference to “sex repulsion” is that repulsion to taking part in a sex act, or thinking about doing so, isn’t the primary way I experience my antipathy towards sex. In fact, I rarely find myself in such a situation. I see sex repulsion as being like a live wire that electrocutes anyone who touches it - but sex aversion is a force field that prevents anyone (including me) from even getting near the live wire. Situations trigger the aversion response, and cause me to depart from them, long before the repulsion response might activate.
The two quotes at the beginning of the post, by aceadmiral and Anonymous, also capture some of the forms my sex aversion takes. Sometimes it’s an intuition, a sense that is very hard to pin down, an inner conviction about what is and what is not right for me. This is very abstract and yet the most central to my identity and something that is always there, regardless of the specific circumstances.
Sometimes, it’s about boundary violation and power dynamics. This response tends to be triggered when thinking about a relationship or when I perceive that someone might want to approach me sexually or romantically. It can manifest as a sense of vulnerability or even fear.
This is the most difficult to talk about. When the answer is always no, when I will never give consent, then sex will always be rape. I usually avoid the R word, phrase it as “sex would be a site of oppression for me”. Saying that all sex is rape, even if I mean just for me, sounds radical feminist. The whole sex-positive movement defines itself in opposition to radical feminism. And the asexual community is very sold on sex-positivity. Sometimes it seems that to be anti-sex is to be a “bad asexual”. You always have to preface your discussion with “but it’s totally OK with me if other people have sex!” and “of course, I only apply this to myself” and a dozen other hedges to reassure people that you don’t mean to hurt the feelings of those who enjoy sex and that you’re not a prude or trying to moralize to others (i.e., sex cheerleading). The idea that sex-positive people might ever need to reassure me or check if they’re hurting my feelings or imposing their views on me, never seems to cross anyone’s mind. In my experience, the asexual community is not a safe space to talk about sex aversion/sex repulsion/sex-negativity. It’s designed to be a safe space for the sex-favorable and thus when I want to talk about my own experiences, I feel obligated to do so in a way that centers others and which implicitly assumes that I am the oppressor and thus need to modify my behavior for the sake of others.
Beyond this, our society is structured to give men significantly more power than women when it comes to sex. As a woman and as someone whose dress (hijab) is very strongly coded as female, when I am presumed to be heterosexual, I am presumed to be interested in men and will be approached by men who are interested in women. This means that most of the actual situations that confront me, and most of the presumptions that people make about relationships for me, are about confronting male power and about my own relative powerlessness.
I’ve noted for awhile that my sex aversion is much stronger in regard to men than it is towards women. While part of this is due to the underlying sex repulsion (which for me is particularly triggered by the prospect of penetration), I feel that a lot of it is also due to this fact of male power. That’s why I said that for me sex aversion can be about power dynamics.
Earlier this year I wrote about patriarchal interpretations of Islam and how they would severely disadvantage me as an asexual woman who cannot provide sex. More than that, the sex-normativity that permeates these interpretations marks me as someone who is inherently disobedient and who is a rightful target of male and societal discipline. This type of patriarchy isn’t limited to Islam or to Muslim societies, either, but if anything is more radical feminist than saying all sex is rape it’s saying that all men are potentially rapists, at least when it comes to me. I can see why Anonymous wrote anonymously and why she submitted her essay to a zine about topics that aces feel silenced about in the community. Talking about patriarchy in this way is definitely not welcomed in asexual spaces that I’ve seen. We can be feminist, but only as long as we’re sex-positive feminists.
The best thing an asexual blog ever did for me was Elizabeth’s post Sex-Positive Feminism vs. Sex-Negative Feminism, which pointed me to Lisa Millbank’s The Ethical Prude: Imagining an Authentic Sex-Negative Feminism. This was the first time I had ever read anything that both included an asexual perspective and brought asexuality into dialogue (however briefly) with sex-negativity. It inspired a lot of reflection and thought and helped me a great deal in developing my own asexual feminism.
I think ultimately that my sex aversion is more central to how I experience the world than my lack of sexual attraction (i.e., asexuality proper) is. It determines how patriarchy impacts me and it is part of my core sense of self. I don’t see it as separate from my asexuality but as flowing out of it. Not all aces are sex-averse (though 55% of us are) and not all sex-averse aces experience it the way I do, but for me the two phenomena are not detachable
Soooo this post and all the white aces commenting on it are wrong and also racist and here’s why:
First of all, how is it that white aces are all about diverse perspectives and multiple narratives when we’re co-opting WOC ideas to demand inclusivity from feminist and sex positive spaces, but as soon as POC perspectives start challenging mainstream narratives within our own community, all of a sudden anything that doesn’t fit the mold is irrelevant and off-topic? We’re a bunch of racist hypocrites, folks.
Second of all, here’s *my* takeaway from Alok Vaid-Menon’s piece, and it’s a point all us white aces have been failing to articulate or acknowledge:
If one of the goals of an asexual visibility movement is to make asexual identities accessible, then we need to address all of the barriers to that. Right now we’re addressing some of them, like stigma and lack of vocabulary and erasure. But we’re not addressing colonialism. We’re not addressing the fact that structurally, people who have been racially desexualized just do not have the same access to an asexual identity that white people do. That makes racism and decolonization central issues for us. If we’re not addressing them, we’re only helping white people and POC who are able to adopt white-compatible narratives. If we’re not addressing that, we’re a racially exclusive movement. *That’s* the point. *That’s* why it’s crucial to talk about colonialism and desexualization and lack of access to ace identities.
People are like “How is this relevant when the person doesn’t even identify as ace?” You don’t get it. It’s relevant because they can’t identify as ace in an empowering way, and no one in our community is talking about why.
It’s also crucial to discuss colonialism because desexualizing is an issue the “ace community” has the power to challenge. Ace PoC have an immense power to discuss how colonialism = co-opting and sexual enslavement of brown bodies, and to fight this structure through actual movements instead of just trying to be included - and white people can’t wrap their minds around letting us do that, or that they’re not gatekeepers to “let” things happen in the first place.
Advocates point out that every type of care that a transgender Medicaid recipient might seek is already provided by Medicaid, except to transgender people seeking the care to confirm gender. This is particularly significant considering that much of the care provided has the sole purpose of confirming the gender of non-transgender patients. Reconstruction of breasts or testicles lost to cancer, hormone treatment to eliminate hair that is considered gender inappropriate, chest surgery for gynecomastia, and other treatments are provided solely because of the mental health and social consequences faced by people who have physical attributes that do not comport with their self-identity and social gender. Thus, the distinction made in refusing this care to transgender people appears to be based solely on diagnosis. Denying care to a politically unpopular group that is provided to others in need of such care appears to violate the letter and spirit of the federal Medicaid statute and regulations.
The Problem With Muslim Marriage Articles
Once in my early twenties I was sitting in a car with my father waiting for a repairman to come to fix a large dent on the side. My father had noticed that I was unusually quiet and asked me if there was something wrong. I inexplicably burst into tears and wailed, “All Muslim men want is sex!” And that is how I very awkwardly had my first ever conversation about the birds and the bees with a parent.
I hadn’t come to this conclusion due to specific Muslim men who convinced me of this. It was simply what I had been taught all my life in Islamic school, religious lectures on gender relations, and the Muslim marriage articles that I would avidly read as a teenager. I had grown up in a very strict gender segregated community, and therefore learned about the lives and roles of Muslim men by stories and what I later discovered were caricatured descriptions of their character. It was an odd way of growing up since I spent my days at school interacting with boys who weren’t Muslim, but assumed that they lived an entirely separate life than that of Muslim boys. Simultaneously, I thought of my father and my other male relatives as anomalies among Muslim men.
Let’s look at this recent viral listicle called "7 Things Your Muslim Husband Won’t Tell You." The list mentions extremely gendered [‘masculine’] stereotypes that claim all Muslim men want respect, they’re obsessed with sex and have trouble saying that they love you. As a young impressionable teenager, I accepted these as the norm. Little did I know that by doing this I and many other young Muslimahs were setting the bar very low for Muslim men. By accepting this as fact I grew up thinking Muslim men were insecure gynecomaniacs. When I got to college and had the ability to interact with Muslim men, I had these beliefs so deeply inculcated in my mind that I would constantly go out of my way to show a false level of respect and admiration for my male friends out of politeness. Every hur joke, every admission to watching porn, every fight that happened between men and women was taken in as evidence for my beliefs. Any action by a man that defied their extreme masculinity and insecurities would be dismissed. Unfortunately, I wasn’t unique in this approach. A lot of us women, especially those from more conservative communities, grow up believing this.
A recent article on Love, InshaAllah describes an experience that so many of my friends have gone through with husbands or even simply guy-friends:
Hadi and I always had been and always would be filling in the scenes of narratives set in motion long before we became a couple. For all the romantic images that had filled my head, I had grown up on marriage stories where the moral always rested in resignation. From the outset of our relationship, I was looking for signs of the things that I thought to be true, that marriage was about sacrifice, about men dictating and women bending.
It took me years to understand that my mind had penned Hadi’s role in the above anecdote. I’d assigned him patriarchal motivations because I didn’t know him well enough to know what he was really thinking. It would take me several more years to discern the kinds of stories Hadi’s mind told about an indifferent bride who was more concerned with her wedding, her family, and her friends than the man she was marrying.
Several of my female friends had entered into a marriage believing that their husbands desired to be praised for being the head of the household, prepared themselves for his high sex drive (while suppressing their own desires), and not expecting that their husbands would be capable of showing any love. After all that’s what we’re taught. Having attended so many lectures on gender relations and preparation for marriage, I expected nothing more.
And yet, when I sat in the car with my father waiting for his response he awkwardly laughed and said it wasn’t true. I thought about my father who I felt was so different from this perceived Muslim man I had concocted in my head. My father tells his wife and children quite often that he loves them, if he’s angry at me I make him melt by kissing him on the forehead, he gets more emotional than my mother when watching a sad romantic film, he understands where my mother rules in the household, he understands where my skills surpass his and asks me to take charge when necessary. We all respect and love him. We tease him for the silly things he does, and he humbly takes in all the sarcastic jokes.
Never has he demanded respect from his wife or children as I had been taught so often what men need as a teen. Sitting in the car looking around to make sure the repairman wasn’t arriving, he talked about when he was my age his friends didn’t think of marriage as obtaining a life-long concubine as I had assumed. That although my mother was more religious than him at the time of their marriage, he didn’t expect her to teach him to be a better Muslim or to teach him anything at all. Their love and respect for one another brought them both to a path of being better people. That love is what everyone wants, and that the best way to express it is by rooting for holistic growth in the loved person. To support them in their decisions, be there when they need you, and to find sukoon by accepting them for who they are.
Although you can find these sorts of ideas in lectures by Sh Abdallah Adhami, Imam Khalid Latif, or other more spiritually attuned Imams, this isn’t what we’re taught in the overwhelming majority of provided Islamic resources. In a recent juma khutbah of Imam Khalid Latif’s that brought me to tears, he described how women in our society are constantly shunned and criticized for their behavior but men are given the excuse that they’re boys and can do whatever they want to. Why aren’t we elevating our expectations of Muslim men? Why don’t we see men as individual complex beings that can make conscientious decisions, have full-ranged and valid emotions, that see love as more important in a relationship than sex or have ‘feminine’ qualities?
If I am to one day have children I hope to challenge these gendered stereotypes of both men and women, to teach them the love that my father has showered me with, and to grow up seeing men and women as individuals. Otherwise, like the author in the Love, InshaAllah post they could be stuck making perfunctory assumptions rather than recognizing the beautiful complexities of their lifelong partner.
I’ve been learning lately why I feel uncomfortable concerning men and the thought of marrying them. The emphasis on being ready to have sex at any moment has been quite upsetting as an asexual woman. But there are other factors at work…..so many gender roles.
I’ve found, how very quickly after my conversion (and before) I internalized the norms and expectations of Muslim society, even without my knowing. I never believed in the barrier in the mosque, and yet, when a young teenage boy came over to the women’s side one day when I was a new Muslim, my automatic emotional response was that it was wrong and he deserved the lecture he got.
How many other things must be shaping my own expectations. I believe in compromise and cooperation over fixed gender roles, but when it comes time for it, what else will I bring with me, in my mind?